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Are we focusing on what are customers really want or what we think they want?

Published on 29 August 2019

Are we focusing on what are customers really want or what we think they want?

I recently saw on the News that Boris Johnson had pledged to invest in the HS3 rail link reducing the travel time between Leeds and Manchester from 50 to 30 minutes at a cost of £39 billion. This a journey I do regularly so my initial reaction was ”brilliant”. However, after that announcement I continued to use the trains and this made me rethink how highly journey time really rates in my list of priorities as a customer. Here is what really matters to me. (The next bit of this article may read as a bit of a rant).

  • Getting a seat . Whenever, I travel across country it is rare to get a train with more than 3 carriages even though there are enough passengers to fill six. When you are crammed in like sardines to an overheated train carriage straining every muscle to keep your balance, perception of times slows. 30 minutes like this is an eternity, in comparison 50 minutes sat down is a pleasure. Longer trains would require significant investment and maybe the lengthening of the odd platform. I would be surprised if this is anywhere near the £39 billion of HS3.
  • Being able to afford it. Why does a trip to London arriving before 11am cost more than it costs to fly a family of 4 to Lanzarote?  It is of no value to me reducing the travel time if I cannot afford to use the service.
  • Being flexible. Ticket pricing means that to get affordable rates I need to choose the exact train I will be using weeks in advance. Last minute decisions and changes are part of everyday life but not an option if travelling by train. This also impacts my travel time, if I miss a train I have to buy a ticket all over again (at the highest possible rate). Which means I need to build huge amounts of contingency time into my travel plans. This lengthens my journey by as much as I would save with HS2 & HS3.
  • Knowing my train will be there. I am increasingly seeing on the departures board “Train cancelled due to a member of the train crew being unavailable”. This not only means I will be late but also means that there will now be 12 carriages worth of passengers being crammed into 3 carriages. It is inevitable that members of staff will be off sick, or late for work, (especially if they are coming in by train). A good planning function will factor this into their plans and build in enough contingency to cover this in all but the most extreme circumstances such as an influenza epidemic or a particularly eventful office party. Contingency costs money but no contingency can cost far more, in lost business, brand damage, refunds and compensation.
  • Arriving on time. Something I see all the time is escalating delays. Small delays are inevitable, for example it takes longer to board passengers when the train is already full, (I did warn you this could turn into a rant). Small delays are fine if you can make up the time, and if you can’t few of us will quibble over a minute or two. The problem is the lines are at such capacity that even the slightest delay means you are stuck behind the slow train or queuing to go into every station or through every set of points. A small delay soon becomes a long delay. This is a tricky one to resolve as lines are at capacity so would need completely new infrastructure or fewer trains. As passengers we want the moon on a stick we want more trains and we want them on time. However, if we could guarantee that the train would arrive on time and have enough seats for everybody would we be prepared to have a slightly less frequent service?

Ok, my rant about the trains is over, (for know), so what can we learn from this that we can apply in our own roles. All too often we focus and target based on what we assume our customer’s want rather than what they really want and need. Speed of answer is a great example of this. Most contact centres and planning functions have key targets around speed of answer, often making compromises in other areas of customer service to meet these, but how many of us have done the analysis to understand what these targets should be and where they sit in our customers priorities.

We may ask our customers if wait time is important and they will invariably say yes, in the same way that if you ask me if I would like my journey time reducing I will say "Yes please". The reality is that if we ask the question “Would you like…” followed by anything positive the answer will nearly always be yes.

However, when you do the analysis this isn’t always as clear cut. I once worked with a company and compared over 100,000 customer satisfaction, net promoter and customer effort scores with the time they waited. Surprisingly I could find no correlation between these, (except slightly where waits exceeded 10 minutes). I have spoken to a number of analysts who have done similar work in their own organisations and have had the same result.

What did make a difference was what happened when the call was answered. Was the enquiry resolved? Did the advisor listen and show empathy? By targeting response time at the expense of effort to deliver what the customers really need we can actually damage our customers experience rather than improve it.

Every organisation and department is different, and their customers will have different expectations. I am not saying that it is wrong to focus on response time it may be the right thing for your customers but then again it may not. Don’t set a target because you assume that it is what your customers want, or because it is what other organisations do.  Do the analysis on your own customers and set the targets that are important to them. Is this what really matters or is it the icing on the cake. We need to make sure that we focus on the cake first, once we have the cake right we can start thinking about the icing. Returning to my train example, high speed is the icing, but a reliable, affordable, comfortable service is the cake.

It would be great to hear about the analysis you have done to understand what your customers really want. Have you proven or disproved a link between response time or any other targets and customer experience? Do you have currently have targets that are based on customer assumptions rather than analysis? 

If you have any comments please share in the Linkedin article.

Date Published: 29/08/2019

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